Olli Jokinen named Liiga coach of the year following remarkable first season with Mikkelin Jukurit

Olli Jokinen wins the Kalevi Numminen Award (Jukka Rautio, Liiga)

SUNRISE, Fla. – It’s been quite a year for former Florida Panthers captain Olli Jokinen.

In the span of a hockey season, the man known as “OJ” by his friends and colleagues went from the founder of a youth hockey academy to the top coach in one of the best leagues in the world.

More than a few eyebrows were raised last February when he was hired to be the head coach of Mikkelin Jukurit, one of the least successful franchises in Liiga, the top hockey league in Finland.

It was quite an endeavor to take on for Jokinen, who would be embarking on his maiden voyage into professional coaching.

Not that an overwhelming challenge in the face of unlikely odds would deter Jokinen from pursuing the passion that has taken the forefront of his post-playing days.

Remember, after retiring from the NHL, Jokinen and fellow former Panthers Radek Dvorak and Tomas Vokoun founded the South Florida Hockey Academy.

It was there that the trio began coaching youth players from not only the local ranks but from across the continent and eventually the globe.

In addition to paying it forward and contributing to the growth of youth hockey in South Florida and beyond, running the academy also provided Jokinen the opportunity to hone his coaching skills and prepare for what comes next.

Clearly it appears those lessons and experiences paid off in a big way for Jokinen.

He joined a club in Mikkeli that had previously seen success in Mestis, Liiga’s second tier, winning seven championships since 2001, but since it’s ascension to Liiga in 2016 had failed to qualify for the playoffs or finish higher than eleventh place in the 15-team league.

Enter Coach OJ.

After an initial stumble out of the gate, the Mikkelin began picking up steam as the season progressed and it wasn’t long before Jokinen’s club was the talk of the league.

They would end up finishing with the second-best record in Liiga, an accomplishment that proved to be equal parts surprising and thrilling for the passionate Jukurit fanbase.

On Friday, Mikkeli’s new and beloved head coach was honored for his amazing rookie season.

During Liiga’s annual end-of-season Ice Hockey Gala in Tampere, Jokinen received the Kalevi Numminen Award recognizing the league’s top coach.

It was the first time a Mikkelin head coach had won the award.

Speaking after the gala, Jokinen thanked his players and coaching staff for their hard work and commitment from day one through the end of their season, saying the award was a product of their dedication.

Jokinen has always said he wants to be a player’s coach, and there was an emphasis placed on developing his players on and off the ice with Jukurit.

Clearly, the results speak for themselves.

Jokinen also expressed excitement toward next season, where he expects to have much of his roster back in Mikkeli.

As for what the future may hold for Jokinen and his coaching career, continuing this kind of success could very well see him bring his talents back to the west.

Jokinen’s roots in the hockey world run deep. They include many strong relationships with current and former NHL coaches and executives, and you can bet Olli’s accomplishments in Liiga have not gone unnoticed.

Will that eventually bring Jokinen and his family back to North America, the place he called home since arriving as a teenage top draft pick more than 20 years ago?

Only time will tell, but he’s certainly on the right track.

About the Author:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.